Welcome to Ask WeAreTeachers, a weekly advice column in which we take your most pressing questions and run them by our group of experienced, no-nonsense teachers, as well as experts in the field. This week, Ask WeAreTeachers takes on reporting a co-teacher for leaving early, teacher-to-teacher bullying, and more.
Tattling or Telling?
I’m a first year teacher working in first grade with a co-teacher. The way it’s set up neither of us is the lead, but obviously he has more experience than I do. My problem is that he leaves immediately after dismissal every day without fail. I’m tired of picking up his slack, and at this point, I’m ready to report him to administration. Is that a terrible idea? —Doing All The Work
At this point, I think it would be a mistake to go to your principal. If you do that, you risk permanently damaging the relationship, which could make for a difficult rest of the school year and beyond. You need to have a conversation with him first, if you have one at all. By that I mean that when another teacher leaves really isn’t any of your business. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we’re all doing our best. So if it’s not affecting his work, leave it alone.
However, it sounds like this leaving early may be part of a larger problem. Given that he’s your co-teacher, his actions impact you and the students in your mutual care. But you can express your frustration in a kind way. Sit down together and talk through your expectations of each other. Ideally, you would have established roles from the get go. If so, it’s time to revisit those. If not, you need to lay the ground rules.
Once you’ve met, if there is still no improvement (and I’m talking about his work responsibilities, not necessarily the heading home at 2:45 p.m.), you can then consider consulting administration.
Foul Odor or Foul Behavior?
One of my fifth grade boys keeps saying that my room stinks and is implying it’s me. He covers his nose anytime I’m near. He fancies himself the class clown, and I’m pretty sure he’s just doing it to get the other kids to laugh. Ignoring him doesn’t seem to work. How do I stop this rude behavior? —Pretty Sure It’s Not Me
It’s not you. But first things first: let’s determine whether or not the room is actually stinky. Some classrooms have a distinctive odor, especially if they’re in close proximity to the bathrooms. Baking soda is an excellent deodorizer that shouldn’t bother anyone with sensitivities to fragrances. It could also be a hygiene issue. I mean, you teach fifth grade, my friend, and it might be a good time for some hygiene education.
But whether or not your room has an odor, you need to address the behavior. As much as you might want to say, “Whoever smelled it dealt it,” do avoid the temptation. I don’t suggest you continue to ignore the behavior. Address the student directly to let him know that his comments are rude and unacceptable. Maintain your composure, and make it clear that if he continues to be disrespectful, he will face progressive consequences.
Relationship can make a huge difference here, too. A one-on-one with this student could help you find out the motivations behind the behavior. Maybe there really is a smell issue, and he can be part of finding a solution. Or perhaps he’s simply asking for attention and doing it in an inappropriate way.
Overreaction or Overreach?
I’ve been really unhappy in my current job. My colleagues are really gossipy, and I want out. I started applying for jobs at other schools a few months ago and I got my first interview! Unfortunately, the principal at the prospective school wants me to interview in my classroom. I don’t feel comfortable at all. What are my options here? —Hesitant in High School
I completely understand your reluctance. If it’s during your contracted time, on a district device, and/or using the school wifi, that’s ethically questionable. Plus, someone could walk in on you, and you don’t want to be in a position of explaining yourself to your co-workers if the environment is as toxic as you say.
I recommend trying to find out the reasoning behind it the principal’s insistence on interviewing from your classroom. This seems like a strange request to me. Is it a time constraint? Do they want to get a feel for your room? If that’s the case, offer to interview from your car and take pictures of your room.
Remember that an interview goes both ways. Their continued insistence could mean it’s not a good fit for you. Principal Kela Small advises, “There’s no real reason to dictate the location. If the interviewing principal insists, I would see it as a red flag and decline the interview.”
Bullied or Beleaguered?
I’m being treated horribly by my teaching team. The lead teacher and several others are having secret meetings, texts, etc. without me and two other new teachers. They frequently fail to relay important information to us. They purposely sit away from us in the lounge. They’ve lied about us to administration. Is it just me, or are we being bullied?” —Targeted in Kindergarten
It certainly sounds like it to me, and I teach graduate level courses on bullying. To qualify as bullying, the behavior needs to follow an abusive, repetitive pattern and may include behaviors such as ridicule, exclusion, shaming, and aggression. I’m seeing all of that.
First, I want to reassure you that this is not your fault and you are not overreacting. Being ignored and excluded sucks and can lead to feelings of isolation, affecting your ability to be the teacher you know you can be. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to handle the bullying, and I want you to feel empowered to use them.
Try not to engage with the teachers who are bullying you. Maintain your composure. The last thing you want to do is give them the satisfaction of reaction. Document everything, including dates and times. Given the extent of the bullying, I’d say it’s time to either involve the union or file a formal complaint.